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SCREENING ROOM

Strong Films From Trio of First-Time Directors

August 21, 1995|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Sunset 5 is presenting three outstanding French films Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m. from first-time directors that in a time more congenial to foreign films would have all received regular runs. As it is, this may be your only chance to see them.

Agnes Merlet's bleakly beautiful "Son of the Shark," inspired by a true story, is at once less sensational and more powerful than "Kids" as it tracks unblinkingly yet compassionately a pair of rootless adolescent brothers, Martin (Ludovic Vandendaele) and Simon (Erick Da Silva), running wild in their wintry Belgian seaport town in the aftermath of their mother's abandonment of her family. Their surly, hard-drinking father (Maxime Leroux) seems neither to care for them nor to be able to control them; no reformatory or foster home can contain them; and, in their very early teens, they are too young for prison.

These youths are reckless renegades--they send a bus crashing over a cliff in the opening scene--yet Merlet allows us to care for them, for they are clearly intelligent, reflective and nakedly starved for love and affection, which results in a close, intense bonding between them.

The film's title comes from Martin's remark that he sees himself as the son of a shark and dreams that he and his brother will somehow find respite in an undersea paradise. Merlet's ability to draw complex yet natural portrayals from her young actors is as amazing as her terse, authoritative style.

Karim Dridi's fast-moving, highly entertaining "Pigalle" plunges us headlong into the raffish world of Paris' Times Square, the venerable, garish Place Pigalle, home of the Moulin Rouge but also the sex and drug industries. Its key figure is Fifi (Francis Renaud), a nice-looking petty thief of ambiguous sexual orientation: He's in love with--and kept by--the doomed Divine (Blanca Li), a transvestite entertainer/hooker/drug dealer; he's attracted to a pretty, sexy peep-show dancer (Vera Briole), and he's rescued, at least momentarily, by Fernande (Raymond Gil), the aging star entertainer and owner of a transvestite club. Dridi got many Pigalle denizens to play themselves in this richly atmospheric, emotion-charged romantic melodrama.

On a lighter note, Mathieu Kassovitz's "Cafe au Lait" is an amusing, up-to-the-minute romantic comedy involving a Woody Allenish young messenger (Kassovitz), his beautiful girlfriend (Julie Mauduech), daughter of a white father and a black mother, and her other boyfriend (Hubert Kounde), the rich, athletic son of an ambassador from an African nation. The plot turns upon the girlfriend announcing her pregnancy--and her inability to say which lover is the father of her unborn child. The way the film resolves itself is fresh and encouraging--and, of course, very French. Information: (213) 848-3500.

Clara Law's "Temptation of a Monk" opens Friday at the Monica 4-Plex for one week as part of the Hong Kong Premiere Showcase series. It's an arty-as-all-get-out spiritual odyssey about a young Tang Dynasty general (Wu Hsin-Kuo) who betrays his crown prince for the good of the country only to find himself consumed with guilt, which leads to a long, bloody and lurid road to redemption. Information: (310) 394-9741.

Visual Communications, the Asian Pacific American media arts center, will hold ChiliVisions IX, its annual summer food and film event, on Saturday in Little Tokyo's Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, beginning at 5 p.m. It will present at 7:30 p.m., in the Japan America Theater, Korean American video-maker Michael Cho's one-hour "Another America," a sensitive, timely and far-ranging probe of the widely varying relations between Korean Americans and African Americans.

Cho was inspired to make his video by the early 1992 shooting death of his uncle, a Detroit merchant, followed shortly by the L.A. riots, which endangered another uncle's market. Information: (213) 680-3700 or (213) 680-3004.

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